Do highly reflective plates aid speed enforcement?

The in basket: An online commenter who goes by Mike made the following surprising comment on the Road Warrior column at, about the requirement for front license plates in this state .

“Of course there is no plan to eliminate the front plate,” he said. “The State Patrol (revenue collectors?) need the nice reflective surface for their laser guns to check your compliance while they sit in the unmarked car without lights on the right-of-way in the dark. This is the real reason that you are forced to replace perfectly good plates every few years!”

I’ve never really understood resentment about the way one gets caught doing wrong, which seems to underlie Mike’s complaint. But I suppose it’s no different that the well established practice of throwing out court cases if the search that led to the arrest is found wanting.

I asked whether Mike is right about laser’s reliance on the plates, and whether there is anything to prohibit roadside speed enforcement at night from a darkened patrol car.

The out basket: Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the State Patrol detachments here says, “In no way does a reflective license plate contribute to the effectiveness of a radar/laser.  The purpose of a front license plate on a vehicle is strictly for identification purposes.

“There is nothing (in the) law or WSP policy that prohibits police vehicles (marked or unmarked) from performing radar speed enforcement at night. That includes parking stationary with lights out.” she said.

4 thoughts on “Do highly reflective plates aid speed enforcement?

  1. Just what is the reason for replacing license plates every 7 years, other than fattening the states coffers? I’ve heard that reflective areas deteriorate and must be replaced according to law. Must be just a Washington law because I see plates from other states that do not appear to have any reflection built in. Not only are we forced to buy new plates, but are charged extra to keep the same numbers to avoid changing any documentation with insurance companies. Quite the racket.

  2. I wonder how all the “special” plates complicate the job of officers. The “123 ABC” pattern lends itself well to mnemonics, but it’s harder to tell the difference between say a “WWU” and a “Gonzaga” plate as it drives by at sixty miles an hour.

  3. The problem is not that people are doing wrong, but that government too often decides that doing something right should be legally wrong so they can get more revenue.

  4. Travis,

    It’s not a resentment at getting caught, in that regard I have nothing to resent, my objection to the current tactics used for traffic enforcement are simple: If in fact, as the WSP claims, speed enforcement is about public safety then they would always use fully marked cruisers with properly uniformed Troopers. The Troopers would always make themselves as visible as possible, ie: with proper lighting as they sit by the side of the road (it is by the way illegal to be on the right of way at night without lights). This would have the best calming effect possible but would result in fewer citations being written thus generating less revenue. Contrast that to the current predatory enforcement tactics; Unmarked cars, out-of-state plates, blacked out on the right of way in the dark, Troopers in dark, para-military “tactical” uniforms? Looks to me like the emphasis is not on safety, rather it is on maximizing the volume of revenue collected.
    Never mind that the use of Unmarked cars creates oppourtunity for robbers to easily target motorists

    and remember how well the advice to “drive to a populated area” workd for this lady:


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